Friday, June 30, 2017

Hyp-hen Hil-a-ri-ty UPDA-TED


I take a perverse joy in discovering stupid hyphenations produced by Microsoft Word. One recent discovery is "bin-aural," instead of "bi-naural." It's not as good as "the-rapist," "of-fline" "fi-ne" and "proo-freader," but is worth including in my li-st.

Microsoft, however, is not the only offender. A few years ago The New York Daily News presented us with a powerful piece of innovative typography: iP-hone.

Today's Daily News entry is equally scary: Fa-cebook. 

Ebooks, where word flow is controlled by software—not sentient beings—produce some gems. The Kindle edition of The Brothers Emanuel, by Ezekiel J. "Zeke" Emanuel, presented me with "swit-ching." Is it related to the I Ching?



Automatic hyphenation by ebook readers is both funny and sad. I’ve seen “booksto-re,” “disappoin-ting, “depen-ding” and “increa-sing”—within a few pages in the same book.

Usually the first fragment of a hyphenated word provides a hint of what is ahead on the next line, but not always. Yesterday I encountered min-dreading in the excellent bio of Walt Disney written by Neal Gabler. It must be the absolutely best awful hyphenation.


Microsoft Word often seems to guess or to follow a rule based on recognizable patterns rather than consult an internal dictionary. It sometimes makes bad guesses. Word 2010 is a little bit better than 2007. 


[above] Strangely, hyphenation is debatable. Microsoft Word and Dictionary.com accept “eve-ryone.” Merriam-Webster does not. Neither do I. My own rule for hyphenation is that the first part of a hyphenated word should not be pronounced differently by itself than when it’s part of a larger word. I think most people expect “eve” to be pronounced “eev”—not “ev” or ev-uh.” The “eve” in “eve-ning” is not pronounced like the “eve” in “eve-ryone.”

Word’s hyphenation system sometimes makes bad guesses and you’ll have to overrule its decisions. Proofread very carefully and never have complete faith in robots.

“The-rapist” is my favorite abomination sanctioned by Microsoft. I also really like “of-fline” “who-lesaler,” “Fa-cebook,” “books-tore,” “upl-oad,” “wastel-and,” “proo-freading,” “apo-strophe,” “li-mited,” “identic-al,” “firs-thand,” “fru-strating,” “whe-never,” “foo-ter,” “miles-tone,” “grays-cale,” “distri-bute,” “percen-tage,” “prin-ter,” “fami-liarity,” “misunders-tanding,” “mi-nimize,” “sa-les,” “me-thod,” “libra-rian,” “mi-spronounced,” “alt-hough” and “bet-ween.”

Word often assumes that the letter “e” indicates the end of a syllable as in “be-come” and causes errors like “Ste-ve,” “the-se,” “cre-dit” and “se-tup.”

Word recognizes that “par” is a common syllable, 

which leads to “par-chment.” Maybe Bill Gates retired too soon.  Someone has to fix this stuff.

You may want to override Word’s hyphenation decision with “heteronyms” -- words that are spelled the same way but have two meanings and are pronounced in two ways. Word gives you “min-ute” when you want “mi-nute” and rec-ord even if you want “re-cord.” The automatic hyphenation “inva-lid” makes it seem like you are writing about someone who is ailing, not an “in-valid” contract. Word 2007 and 2010 won’t hyphenate either “Po-lish” or “pol-ish.”

Word’s automatic hyphenation can give weird results with proper names, such as “Fe-dex,” “Publi-shAmerica” and “Pa-nasonic.”

The free “Writer” software from Open Office has problems, too. It produced “unders-tanding.”

I once read a book that advised, “If you do not use a professional your manuscript will not be perfect. Do not proofread it yourself and declare it perfect.” The professional approved “loo-ked,” “winso-me” and “proo-freader.” Ouch.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Are you ready for Prime Time? What's the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional author?



A while ago I copyedited a book written by a woman who is an excellent storyteller—but was not quite ready to be a professional author.

The book required so much editing that my hands ached from typing and mousing. I charged the woman much more than I would have if the text was prepared
better for me.

I'm sure the writer
and perhaps her friends and relativesread the manuscript dozens of times. I'm sure they loved it. I did not.

The biggest single problem was lack of consistency.


The AP book is a reference book you can actually read for fun.

You can adhere to the rules of such style manuals or combine elements of several. It's less important to rigidly follow one book than to be consistent within your text -- but don't be consistently foolish.

Don't have “3 a.m.” on one page and “5PM” 100 pages later. Don't have "41" and "forty-one." Use "chairman" and "Chairman" in the proper places. 

Sometimes the style books agree with each other. Sometimes they don’t. For example, "Chicago" (which was first published in 1891) favors the serial comma, but the AP and the Times books oppose it. Their attitude may be based on the need to save space in crowded newspapers. "Chicago" style is more often used by book publishers.

The Chicago Manual of Style tells us that french fries and swiss cheese need no uppercase letters. The AP book says we should capitalize Swiss cheese.

The AP book was first produced as a 60-page booklet in 1953. Over the years, this “Bible of the Newspaper Industry” grew considerably in both size and scope. The 2007 version that I use is still a rulebook -- but it’s also a dictionary, an encyclopedia and a textbook. The AP updates annually. I'm still using the 2010 edition. The Chicago and Times books update less frequently. I have the 2002 version of the Times book. My 15th edition of the Chicago book was published in 2003.

The Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style insist that an em dash should be attached to the letters before and after it, like—this, with almost no visible space. On the other side, the New York Times likes to put a space before and after each em dash. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, with different styles in different books. As long as I publish my own books, I control my em dashes. You control yours.

While a self-publisher can choose (or create) her or his style, if you get a contract from another publisher—or even if you freelance for a magazine, newspaper or website—you may encounter "house style." Doubleday may have different preferences than Simon & Schuster, and the New York Times may disagree with Esquire.

On the web Slate, Salon and Huffington Post may have different standards.

Just as language does not stand still, neither do the official styles. The AP recently switched from "web site" to "website" and endorsed "email" over "e-mail," "handheld" over "hand-held" and "cellphone" over "cell phone." I made those changes years ago.


Other amateurisms:
  • Rampant use of ampersand instead of "and"
  • Use of numerals instead of spelling low numbers
  • Bad spelling
  • Factual errors
  • Repeated words and phrases
  • Omitted words
  • Omitted hyphens
  • Unnecessary hyphens
  • Omitted spaces
  • Unnecessary spaces
  • Wrong words (e.g., "house" instead of "horse")
  • Lowercasing proper nouns, such as "protestant"
  • Unnecessary uppercasing, such as "Church"
  • Not explaining esoteric terminology
  • Excessive informality outside of dialog (e.g., "my mom" instead of "my mother"
  • Not knowing when to use quote marks and italics
  • Over-long sentences and paragraphs
  • Improper dashes
  • Too many em dashes
  • Not verifying spelling of names (it's the Philips company, but a phillips screw)
  • RUSHING
Control yourself.

All writers have quirks that need to be controlled by their editors or by the writers. Sometimes an editor who is paid by a writer will be inclined to not make a correction ("heck, it's his personal style") that an editor paid by a publisher would correct. That's why it's important for a self-pubber to recognize personal quirks and foibles and try hard to keep the undesirable, unnecessary and weird off the printed page.
 

Just as your style sheet specifies the type font for breaker heads and whether you capitalize the "W" in "web," it's good to have a listat least in your headof screw-ups to avoid.

One of my perpetual problems is giving too many examples. It's partly pedantry, which I inherited from my father. It may also be a bit of egomania, to show off how much I know.

My natural impulse is to write something like, "British automobile manufacturers -- such as Jaguar, Rover, MG, Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris -- had reputations for unreliable electrical systems."

Under my self-imposed limit, I am allowed ONLY THREE EXAMPLES," so I'd probably ditch Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris. I'd still make my point, and save some bytes and trees.




More advice in my Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing-or if you're the only editor)

I am available for editing. Email me.

---

Top illustration from http://www.123rf.com. MG photo from Brett Weinstein. Thanks.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When responding to readers' comments, an author's attitude makes a big difference

I read lots of books.

I particularly read lots of books about publishing, both to learn and to check on possible competition for my own books about publishing.


In one week I read two unsatisfying books which try to instruct self-publishers. They both have useful information, but the presentations are badly flawed. Typography, cover design and editing are deficient. Both books have factual errors, reveal bad decisions (and ignorance), and include inappropriate material.

I often email authors with questions, comments and corrections.

I don't identify myself as a blogger, writer, publisher or reviewer—but I don't hide my identity, either. Any author could instantly find out about me with Google or Bing.


My communication with "#1" was as unpleasant as reading her book. She made ridiculous attempts to justify bad decisions, ignored some questions, and seemed downright resentful (e.g., "Why are you asking these questions?"). Her snotty attitude killed any chance of getting a positive review from me.

The response from "#2" was completely different. He was appreciative of my comments, said that he knew about some of the errors and regretted them, and tried to courteously justify the decisions I disagreed with. He even said he might thank me publicly in the next edition of his book.

I was not looking for public gratitude or ass-kissing, and I did not like his book any better after the email—but I did like the author much better. And that affected my review.

Attitude means a lot.

(smileys from http://robwall.ca/2009/05/22/smileys-in-online-courses/)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I used to get laid because I was a writer. I no longer do. But that's OK.


I majored in journalism in college. I've written many hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 40 books.

For a while I kept a "clip file" of all of my published articles, and had a portfolio of my ads that I could use to impress a prospective employer. But, after nearly 50 years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think that writing is a big deal.


In the early 70s, I loved getting fan mail and phone calls from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. Free records and free passes to movies and concerts often enhanced my relationships with young ladies.

Later, there was lots of satisfaction when I was told how many dollars my ads and websites generated. It was cool seeing people wearing T-shirts I had designed. In more recent years, I've enjoyed reading the mostly good reviews of my books.

I won't say it isn't fun anymore. One fundamental Marcus maxim is, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." If writing wasn't fun, I wouldn't still be doing it.

I still love to tweak, adjust, manipulate and rework blogs, websites and book pages so they sound and look just right.

But writing a good book in 2017 just does not generate the same smiles and internal giggles as the first big cover story I wrote for High Fidelity Trade News in 1969, or getting into movies and concerts for free when I showed my Rolling Stone press ID in 1971, or getting laid after giving a girl a stack of records I had gotten for free when I worked for Stone.

Maybe the problem—if it is a problem—is that writing is much easier than it used to be, so I don't feel I am overcoming a challenge. I was fired from my job at High Fidelity Trade News when I had a two-week dry spell, but it's been decades since I've suffered with a severe case of "writer's block."

Maybe simply getting olderand accumulating more experiencesmakes it easier to write. (But harder to type accurately.) 

At age 71, I can write about almost anything.

I had a demented high school English teacher [she's in Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)] who made 'surprise attacks' on our class. One day she commanded us to "write 500 words about tobogganing." Another time she wanted 500 words about "How Capri pants are the downfall of western civilization."

I hated the evil idiot, but she provided good preparation for later on when my paycheck depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about (ads for women's bathing suits and the Metropolitan Opera, and a fundraising letter for the YMCA, for example).

Getting published is infinitely easier now than when I was younger. Years ago, if I had a brilliant idea for an article or book, I had to query editors and publishers to try to ignite their enthusiasm and open their checkbooks.

Today, if I have something to say, I write a book and publish it myself, or post something on one of my blogs or on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on someone else's blog, or start a new blog or website. It's infinitely easier than pitching an article to an editor or convincing investors to put money into a new magazine.

Those of us in the book biz know how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a "burial society" that I’ve inherited membership in.

Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, this was the first time that a meeting was held near enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

During the meeting, someone spoke about a milestone in family history that occurred about 100 years earlier. I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh, you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

I answered the questions quickly and politely. I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

My extended family (mostly 'sophisticated New Yorkers') thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

I certainly don’t think writing is unusual or that writers are unusual (well, maybe a little unusual). I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed. (Well, actually, a few are.)

I know how easy it is to get published; but to the group of strangers at the meetingwho share some of my genes, and will share a final addressit was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

It made me feel good. Not as good as getting laid because I was an editor at Rolling Stonebut nevertheless, good.

Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish books and have them sold by Amazon and B&N. Maybe I should not publicize this blog post. Oh well.